Fort Snelling is a historic landmark that holds a significant place in the history of Minnesota. It was originally built in the early 1820s as a military outpost for the United States Army.
It was also used as a base for soldiers during the Civil War and processed volunteers during both World Wars.
Today, it serves as a museum and educational center. offering visitors a glimpse into the past and the chance to learn about the important role the fort played in shaping the region’s history.
Visiting the Historic Fort Snelling
Visiting Historic Fort Snelling is something Minnesotans should do at least once in their life. This summer it was on our to-do list, but we kept getting rained out. Thankfully we were able to make it this past weekend.
It was a lot of fun for both my husband and I, as well as the kids. We learned so much about the history of Minnesota. What we didn’t realize was that most historical events can be traced back to this site.
That’s probably why I’m so excited to share with you about the cool things hiding inside.
Why is Fort Snelling important?
Preserving the history of Fort Snelling is of utmost importance. It was originally created to protect the trade routes from the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers and helped to solidify our claim to the land after the War of 1912.
But it wasn’t always what you see today. In 1956 the Minnesota Highway Department planned to build Highway 55 through much of the current grounds. The only thing they planned on keeping was the round tower, building around it.
Minnesotans’ civilians rushed to the Historic Fort Snellings defense and by 1960 For Snelling became the state’s first historical landmark.
While some of the fort is original, much of the barracks are replicas.
Construction and Design of Fort Snelling
Fort Snelling was constructed between 1819 and 1825 using locally sourced limestone and involved the labor of soldiers, civilians, and enslaved people.
The fort’s design was a quadrilateral with bastions at each corner and was strategically located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers.
In the defensive positions around the fort, you’ll see slat openings for musketeers. Thankfully the fort never saw any kind of conflict over the years.
Over the years, the fort underwent several expansions and renovations to accommodate changing military needs. At one point, the fort was 4.2 miles long, extending to terminal one of the MPLS Airport.
What you see today, is just a fraction of the fort.
History of Historic Fort Snelling
Fort Snelling is an important historical site in Minnesota with a rich and complex history. Archaeologists have documented human activity to at least 9,000–12,000 years ago.
The site of Fort Selling was home to the Dakota for centuries before European settlers arrived. Called Bdote, it was where two rivers came together. It is where native people came to fish, hunt, and trade.
It is considered the birthplace of the Dakota people and is held sacred to this day.
But in the last century, Fort Snelling’s primary purpose was as a military post until 1946.
The fur trade
Established by the United States Army in 1819, the fort’s primary mission was to protect American interests in the fur trade and maintain peace with Native American tribes in the area.
It was originally named, Fort St. Anthony in 1825, but was renamed in honor of Col. Josiah Snelling who supervised much of its construction.
The construction was done by enlisted men, paid servants, and slaves. While Minnesota was a free state at the time, US Army officers from other parts of the country would bring their enslaved people with them to work.
Dred and Harriet Scott
While there are plenty of enslaved people who stayed and worked at the fort, the most famous are Dred and Harriet Scott. Dred was purchased by Emmerson, an army doctor who was transferred to Fort Snelling.
After arriving he met Harriet and they were soon married. Ownership of Harriet was transferred to Emmerson so they could stay together. The Scotts remained at Fort Snelling until 1840.
The Scotts would move around a lot between Free and Slave states and go on to sue for their freedom because of this. Their court case went back and forth with appeals before finally making it to the Supreme Court.
The supreme court decision was that: African Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” The decision effectively declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional.
You can learn more about it in Dread Scott v. Sandford.
Fort Snelling played a pivotal role in the Dakota War. As the fur trade started to dwindle in a brilliant scheme to acquire more land without conflict, Thomas Jefferson was able to buy up land from native Americans due to the debt they acquired.
This maneuver had the Dakota People signing confusing documents and giving up their land. Through some improper Indian Agents, war erupted.
In the aftermath of the Dakota War of 1862, Fort Snelling was used to imprison around 1,600 Dakota men, women, and children in a hastily constructed prison camp.
The conditions were harsh, and many people died from disease and starvation.
The leaders were sent to Mankato, where 38 Dakota Men were hanged in the largest mass execution in US history.
During the Civil War, Fort Snelling played a critical role as a training and recruitment center for Minnesota soldiers who fought for the Union.
The fort also served as a strategic location for monitoring Confederate activity in the region.
World War II
During World War II, more than 300,000 men and women joined the US Military at Fort Snelling. They stayed there, before shipping off to basic training.
In addition, six thousand soldiers studied Japanese at the language school onsite before shipping off.
Despite its turbulent past, the fort remains an essential part of Minnesota’s history and a testament to the challenges and triumphs of America’s past.
Things to Do at Fort Snelling
In order to fully understand Fort Snelling and our military history, you have to see it for yourself. Here are some things you’ll see on your visit to Fort Snelling:
Plank Museum and Visitors Center
Start off at the Plank Museum and Visitors Center. Even if you purchased tickets online, you’ll need to get your admission sticker at the register.
Inside is a gift shop, as well as interactive displays that explain the history of the fort. They do a great job at displaying the darker side of it’s history too.
Tour of the Fort
Visitors can take a guided or self-guided tour of the fort. The tour includes exploring the various buildings and structures, like the barracks, officers’ quarters, armory, round tower, kitchens, and more.
The fort has been restored to its 1820s appearance, providing an immersive experience of what life was like for soldiers and civilians during that time period.
Guided tours are 1 hr long and run every thirty minutes from the visitor’s center. You’ll get access to rooms most people don’t get to explore on the self-guided tour.
Fun fact, women would make more money at the fort as a laundress than their husbands as a private.
Outside the fort
You’ll get the opportunity to view a lot of memorial gardens and overlooks. As this place is considered sacred to many native Americans, these memorials do a great job of reflecting their plight.
One of the most interesting pieces was the Treaty of 108 Memorial. At face value, the treaty gave something both sides wanted. But just like the memorial, there were gaps in understanding what they meant by it.
Fort Snelling hosts a variety of special events throughout the year, such as living history reenactments, cultural festivals, and educational programs.
Tips for Making the Most of a Visit to Fort Snelling
Wear comfortable shoes: You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes that are appropriate for the weather.
Check the weather: Fort Snelling is open year-round, but weather conditions can vary greatly depending on the season. Be sure to check the weather forecast before your visit so you can dress appropriately.
Allow plenty of time: There’s a lot to see and do at Fort Snelling, so plan to spend at least a few hours exploring the site.
Consider a guided tour: Guided tours will give you better insights and a deeper understanding of the history and culture of the site.
Be respectful: Fort Snelling is a historic site and museum, Visitors are expected to be respectful of the site and its artifacts.
Follow the rules and guidelines set forth by the Minnesota Historical Society, and be mindful of other visitors and the historical significance of the site.
Check for special events: Fort Snelling hosts a variety of special events throughout the year. You can see living history reenactments, cultural festivals, and educational programs.
Check the schedule on the Minnesota Historical Society’s website to see if any events are happening during your visit.
How much does it cost to go to Fort Snelling?
The admission fee for Fort Snelling is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (65+) and college students, $8 for children ages 6-17, and free for children ages 5 and under.
There are also discounts available for military members and their families.
Is Fort Snelling Still Active?
Fort Snelling is no longer an active military installation. It was decommissioned as a military post in 1946 and subsequently turned over to the Minnesota Historical Society, which operates it as a historic site and museum.
Today, visitors can explore the restored fort and learn about its history and the role it played in the development of the region.
Where is Fort Snelling?
The historic Fort Snelling is located in Saint Paul Minnesota, in the United States.
It is situated on the bluffs above the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, near the city of St. Paul, right across from the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport.
The full address of the historic Fort Snelling is 200 Tower Ave, St. Paul, MN 55111.
The Historic Fort Snelling and Fort Snelling State Park are on two separate exits. I highly recommend using GPS to find it.
What else can you do near Fort Snelling?
Minnehaha Regional Park
Located just a few miles from Fort Snelling, Minnehaha Regional Park. It is home to the stunning Minnehaha Falls. Plus there are hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, and more.
You can dive over, or take the trail located in Fort Snelling State Park.
Mall of America
Just a 15-minute drive from Fort Snelling is the Mall of America. It is one of the largest shopping centers in the world. In addition to shopping, you can also enjoy the indoor amusement park, an aquarium, mini golf, and more.
Fort Snelling State Park
Located just south of the fort is Fort Snelling State Park. The park has great hiking trails, biking, fishing, and other outdoor activities.
Make sure to visit Pike Island and see where the Minnesota River and Mississippi River meet.
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Located just a few miles from the fort, the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is a beautiful natural area that offers hiking, wildlife viewing, and other outdoor activities.
Historic Fort Snelling National Cemetery
Located adjacent to the fort, the Historic Fort Snelling Cemetery. It is the final resting place for many soldiers and veterans, including some who served in the Civil War and other conflicts.
Must See Visit
Fort Snelling is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of Minnesota. The fort’s significant role in shaping the region’s history.
From the tour of the fort and special events, there is much to see and do.
When visiting Fort Snelling, remember to be respectful of the site’s historical significance.